Faith Driven Consumer

Hello all! I have been hard at work with a new nonprofit in Raleigh, N.C. called Faith Driven Consumer. I have helped develop the website, am writing many blog posts, helped in the creation and dissemination of a survey, etc.

Feel free to check out what this nonprofit is doing: faithdrivenconsumer.org

New website project

I am currently in a philosophy class related to the aspects of laughter. Check out this link to see what three different philosophers would have at a restaurant if they were to eat at one.

 

New Projects

Hello everyone! If you want to check out my latest projects I have been working on, read about student travel on my latest blog and check out Elon Intervarsity’s new website that I also created. Enjoy!

New study says college education is declining

By Shea Northcut

Herbert London, president of Husdon Institute, and Anne Neal, president of ACTA, discuss what they call the decline of higher education at a news conference in Washington. SHFWire photo by Shea Northcut

WASHINGTON – Economics, U.S. history, intermediate-level foreign language, mathematics and literature – these subjects are not required at a majority of American liberal-arts universities, according to a study released Monday.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni released the study “What will they Learn?” comparing more than 700 universities through a detailed review of online catalogs rather than by reputation. Only 16 schools received an “A” (average tuition  $13,200), and more than 100 schools failed (average tuition $28,200).

“Too many schools across the country allowing are college students to graduate with great gaps in their knowledge,” said Anne Neal, ACTA president, at a press conference. “We shouldn’t let education be a hit-or-miss situation.”

The study found that less that 5 percent universities require economics, and less than 20 percent require broad surveys of American history or government.

Some of the schools acing the test include Baylor University, Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas. At the other end, Harvard and Georgetown universities received “Ds,” and Northwestern and Johns Hopkins universities received  “Fs.”

Graduation rates were also at opposite ends of the scale. Vanderbilt University received a “D” in the study but has a graduation rate of 91 percent. East Tennessee State University  received an “A” but graduates 43 percent of its students.

The study evaluated seven elements comprising a liberal arts education: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and natural or physical science. To receive an “A,” universities had to require six or seven of the core subjects as part of their curriculum.

Some other experts agreed there has been a downward shift in education. Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute and founder of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, spoke about the deterioration of education before the study was released.

In his new book, “Decline and Revival in Higher Education,” London provides anecdotal illustrations of what he termed a decline. He said it started in the post-Vietnam period when student radicals “dominated” their institutions.

“Today, freshmen bring almost nothing in, and seniors take even less out,” London said. “The consequence is that you don’t have the level of intelligence you once did.”

Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors disagrees. He said it is not that higher education is declining, but the demand for higher education is increasing, and there are not enough educators on campuses.

More than 18.6 million students were enrolled in higher education institutions in 2008, according to the Census Bureau.

“We are a knowledge-based economy,” Rhoades said. “If you are going to increase the percent of students in higher education, then you need to increase human capacity to teach and advise them.”

Budget woes have forced many public university systems to raise tuition. Students at California schools will pay 30 percent more this year than last. At other universities,  increases are in the 3 percent to 4 percent range.

A 2008 study by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities found that state support for public universities had risen by less than 1 percent over 20 years, while tuition had risen at more than twice the rate of inflation.

Changes in the Consumer Price Index have been near zero for much of the last year.

London said the revival of higher education must come with the activism of the people who help pay the bills – parents, alumni and trustees.

“You find the academy is changing because of the skepticism and the financial pressures that exist,” London said. “People have come to the realization they are no longer confident that this is the institution you can count on.”

Census comes in $1.6 billion under budget

By Shea Northcut

ensus Bureau Director Robert Groves emphasizes the phrase “Well Done America” for helping the 2010 census come in $1.6 billion under budget. Census data will be made public Dec. 31. SHFWire photo by Shea Northcut

WASHINGTON – Census officials announced Tuesday that the 2010 survey is $1.6 billion under budget because of strong citizen participation.

The 22 percent savings from a $7.4 billion budget is credited to two central things – a high mail-back rate of census forms and the lack of emergencies, such as a major storm or flu epidemic. Census Bureau officials also said they had better plans than in previous years, and enumerators were more experienced and more productive than they imagined due to a larger hiring pool.

“Paying relentless attention to detail, setting ambitious goals and creating precise metrics to measure performance are principles to make this census a resounding success,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said.

Roughly 255,000 community-based organizations – such as religious groups, businesses and nonprofits – partnered with the Census Bureau to encourage people to fill out and return census forms. The bureau used a higher advertising budget to advertise in more languages and to target communities with low response rates in the past.

Of 565,000 temporary census workers who visited homes or telephoned homes that had not returned a form, only 0.2 percent collected inaccurate data, according to Census Bureau Director Robert Groves. The bureau is rechecking the work of those approximately 1,000 workers.

The high level of accuracy saved the bureau $600 million.

The main mission of the decennial census is to provide accurate data to help determine how $400 billion in

federal aid is allocated to communities for such things as education, senior services and roads. It is also used to draw boundaries for congressional districts.

To ensure accuracy, a new field verification operation was used to check addresses of forms mailed in from locations other than homes. Forms were placed at drug stores and other locations to ensure everyone had the ability to respond.

“We are going to stay out in the field until we have a resolution on every address, and we understand the population characteristics in every way we can,” Groves said.

After all major surveys are collected, a final high-quality survey system will be used, a sampling of 187,000 households, or one in 700, across the U.S. to double-check data.

“Interviewers are going to look differently than our enumerators by asking in-depth questions to make sure we have counted that house correctly and will check our census,” he said.

Survey results will be presented to the president and the country Dec. 31. Other more detailed findings, including counts of race and ethnicity, will be released in the following months.

Groves said the bureau is already thinking about the next census in 2020.

“We are heavily focusing for 2020 on how we can radically reduce the cost of the decennial census in the United States without harming the quality. … We are thinking outside of the box,” Groves said.

Senator and Gulf oil workers rally at Capitol against drilling moratorium

By Shea Northcut

Tim Duncan and Stephen Heitzman of Houston represent Phoenix Exploration Company. They have had to delay offshore drilling, costing money and resulting in job losses. SHFWphoto by Shea Northcut

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, joined oil company workers to rally against the oil drilling moratorium at the Capitol Wednesday, saying there are “smarter and better ways to do this.”

Owners of small oil businesses from the Gulf Coast said the halt on exploratory deep-water drilling means further unemployment for all workers.

Cornyn said the moratorium – imposed in May by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after the April blowout of the BP well – will worsen the country’s 9.5 percent national unemployment rate. This shortsighted moratorium, set to end Nov. 30, will have long-lasting effects, he said.

“A smarter way is one that protects the environment and the people in it, while it doesn’t kill jobs at the same time,” Cornyn said. “We need to be using American energy … not energy from abroad.”

Former Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., said that, if exploration and production of oil and gas does not occur in the Gulf soon, contractors will move to other parts of the world, leaving costly effects for all Americans – not just for those who are unemployed.

“Oil and gas and all forms of energy are to our economy what blood is flowing through our bodies,” Peterson said. “The Obama administration is choking the artery that provides affordable, available energy to America. … When they do that, our economy could have a heart attack.”

The U.S. imports about 60 percent of its oil and gas energy.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks at a rally outside the Capitol Wednesday alongside oil business owners from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas who are being affected by the moratorium. SHFWphoto by Shea Northcut

More than 50 workers from Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana gathered on the Capitol grounds in Gulf-like steaming heat, holding blue signs that said “My Job Matters.”

Stephen Heitzman, president of Phoenix Exploration Co. in Houston, was one of them.

Heitzman’s 4-year-old company has 50 employees – 35 in Texas and 15 in Louisiana. The freeze on oil drilling has slowed down all activities and shut down some businesses in the Gulf of Mexico. He said he was here to fight for his 50 employees who may lose their jobs as a result of the moratorium.

“We are all here to support the effort to let our congressmen know that the activities of one company shouldn’t affect everyone else in the same industry,” he said. “The United States lives on the energy we all provide because we are an energy-based economy.”

The American Energy Alliance organized the rally. It is the grassroots arm of the Institute for Energy Research. Both groups favor less government involvement in the energy business.

Thomas Pyle, AEA president, said he hopes the rally will force policy changes for oil workers.

“We are here to help shine the light on real impacts this is having on small businesses,” Pyle said. “We all pay at the pump, energy is embedded in everything and policy makers need to see the long-term impact this will make on our economy.”

Research finds environmental factors trigger genetic susceptibility for autism

By Shea Northcut

Max Moen, 10, is an autistic child who is about to start fourth grade. His mother, Mary Moen, testified that their family was frustrated over waiting lists as long as six to 12 months at facilities that offered autism treatments when Max was first diagnosed. SHFWphoto by Shea Northcut

WASHINGTON – Genes and the environment – these are two things researchers are looking into as the cause of autism.

Despite popular belief that genetics are the main cause of autism, researchers are finding links between genetics and environmental factors that trigger the disability. But there is still more research needed to confirm the connection.

Four experts and a parent discussed autism research at a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday, emphasizing the need for continuing this research.

Isaac N. Pessah, director of University of California Davis Center for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention, said there are genes associated with autism, but effects of the gene may only be expressed in a given environment.

“When you look at the percent of cases which have these genetic malfunctions, for each gene, it’s less than 1 percent and no greater than 20 percent,” Pessah said. “There is a large fraction of autism that hasn’t been attributed to genetic contribution.”

More than 80,000 chemicals in use today are consistent with the neurological disorders found in autism.

Pessah explained how molecular systems associated with autism are the same as the “environmental toxicants” of concern to human health. Some toxicants include lead, tobacco, PCBs and mercury.

Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, said research on environmental factors is crucial for families dealing with autism.

“The importance of understanding the environmental triggers of disease is that you can change your environment, but at this point you can’t change your genes,” she said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 3,000 chemicals are classified as high-production volume, meaning more than a million pounds per year are produced or imported. More than 40 percent of those chemicals have not been tested for toxicity.

Paul Anastas, EPA assistant administrator for research and development and science, said most companies do not test chemicals because the results must be turned over to the government.

Scientists are trying to identify classes of compounds that can trigger a variety of disorders to which children are susceptible – one in six American children has a developmental problem.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said it is crucial for scientists to identify and regulate these chemical classes rather than banning one chemical at a time. Banning them quickly will prevent more children from developing autism, she said.

“Children are more susceptible to environmental dangers than adults,” Klobuchar said. “They are exposed to toxins easier than adults because their immune systems are still developing. … It’s not going to be solved overnight, but at this point, everyone is aware of  the connection, and we need to keep this research going.”

Mary Moen, a former teacher and the mother of an autistic son, Max, 10, of Minneapolis, said her family thought there was a genetic link when Max was diagnosed at age 3. He has a 48-year-old aunt with suspected autism.

Max will enter the fourth grade soon at his neighborhood school after spending some time at a school with a program for children with autism.

“I do not believe we can come to simple conclusions when it comes to the cause-and-effects of such a complex disorder as autism,” Moen said. “While there is an urgent and growing need for resources for early identification and intervention … it is also imperative that we focus resources on continued research so that we can one day identify its cause.”